I do think that The Force Awakens leans a little too heavily on the mythos of the first trilogy, almost repackaging the journeyman hero elements of A New Hope and sending it out to us as though it were a shiny new product. Look, it tells us, we’ve got a female heroine sensitive to the Force! We’ve got a likable black love interest for her! Yeah, but you also have a brattier version of Darth Vader, a baby R2D2, a female Yoda-like mentor who is orange instead of green, and a new set of villains with a new deadly weapon that are kinda like the Empire and the Death Star, only, you know, a bit different. Even their head honcho, Snoke, is just a creepier-looking Palpatine knockoff. And, come to think of it, Rey and Finn aren’t too unique, either. Rey is an obvious amalgamation of Luke Skywalker (the parentless desert-dweller who has the capabilities of a Jedi), Leia Organa (the feisty female who becomes the damsel in distress, even if just for a tiny bit), and Han Solo (the technological and navigational whiz). Finn, meanwhile, fulfills the functions of the cowardly sidekick role that used to be C-3PO and Chewbacca’s domain (as Chewie is noticeably more courageous in this film). Poe Dameron, too, has the familiarity and charisma of a white Lando, while taking on the role of sensational pilot that once belonged to Luke.
No, you won’t convince me otherwise: this is as much a reboot of the old films as it is a direct continuation of them. How can it not be, when the past is so clearly being revisited and given a fresh coat of paint? Nevertheless, it works very well, and I may even prefer the story of this one to A New Hope’s. There are more moving parts, with a deeper focus on who these characters are and may turn out to be in the long run. The nostalgia factor (i.e. seeing old faces step into roles as though they had never left) is also done with great poignancy, adding the emotional beats the film needed to be accepted by the old guard. Even I, who have only watched the original trilogy this month, shed some tears when the late Carrie Fisher made her first appearance, or when R2D2 powered back up and did its part to help the heroes once more. These little things do matter, and J. J. Abrams’ regard for the fans is laudable in that respect.
I hear The Last Jedi has sparked a lot of controversy in some circles, with some hardcore fans outright hating it. I don’t know how to read that reaction, and whether it bodes well for mine, but I am excited that Rian Johnson has decided to take some risks rather than maintaining the loving throwback model that Abrams utilises here. The past may cycle back into the future. It may very well repeat itself. In a franchise like this, however, some novelty is to be encouraged.